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Border & Immigration

San Diego officials preparing for end of Title 42

The federal government is sending hundreds of Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents to ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border in anticipation of the end of Title 42 next week.

Title 42 is a controversial public health order enacted by former President Donald Trump at the start of the pandemic. It allows border agents to deny migrants access into the United States without a court hearing.

Since the start of the pandemic, Title 42 has been invoked more than 2 million times to turn away migrants, including asylum seekers, from ports of entry, according to DHS data.

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President Joe Biden criticized the policy during the 2020 campaign. But his administration kept it in place until formally trying to end it in 2022. However, a federal judge in Louisiana blocked the administration from ending the program.

Last month, a federal judge from a separate Title 42 lawsuit — this one filed by the ACLU and other advocacy organizations before Biden took office — ordered the Biden administration to terminate the program by Dec. 21.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees CBP, said Tuesday that they expect more migrants to present themselves at the border once Title 42 is lifted.

In preparation for the anticipated increase, the agency said it will send more agents to the border and continue recent efforts to increase processing times. Additionally, the agency plans to build more temporary detention tents along the southern border and increase criminal prosecutions of smugglers who help people cross the border illegally.

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“Once the Title 42 order is no longer in place, DHS will process individuals encountered at the border without proper travel documents using its longstanding Title 8 authorities,” DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement.

Under Title 8, individuals who cross the border without legal authorization will be processed and removed from the United States unless they can establish a legal basis to stay in the country.

For asylum seekers who claim fear of persecution in back home, they will have access to “credible fear” screenings and — if they pass — will get a chance to start an asylum case in immigration court, according to Title 8.

Although conservative critics of the Biden administration’s immigration plan criticized the removal of Title 42, they supported a commitment to build more border walls.

DHS’s post-Title 42 plan calls for installing more border infrastructure including, “the closure of over 120 gaps and gates along the border.”

“The reference to ‘gaps and gates’ is code for wall construction,” wrote Andrew Arthur, a fellow at the Center of Immigration Studies, an anti-immigration think tank.

Because Title 42 was used to deny entry to migrants for the last two years, there are tens of thousands of migrants and asylum seekers in Mexico waiting for a chance to enter the country. Officials anticipate a surge of migrants as soon as Title 42 is lifted.

It is unclear how many migrants will be processed through the San Diego border after Dec. 21 if the judge’s order stays in effect. CBP did not respond to questions about the agency’s staffing levels and capacity to process migrants.

In the spring, during a surge of Ukrainian war refugees, more than 500 Ukrainian nationals were processed through the San Ysidro Port of Entry on a daily basis.

Currently, activists say about 100 migrants are being processed through the PedWest border crossing daily. Those migrants are getting into the country through exemptions to Title 42 granted to particularly vulnerable individuals and families.

In San Diego, officials have already asked the federal government for help. On Dec. 1, Mayor Todd Gloria led a group of 32 other mayors of border cities to write a letter asking for financial support.

The letter specifically asks for $500 million in FEMA’s Emergency Food and Shelter program and $300 million for a federal humanitarian assistance program.

“Decisive action on this issue cannot wait, and we appreciate your leadership and attention,” the letter states. “This funding would boost the capacity of local organizations to respond to an increasing number of asylum seekers at the U.S./Mexico border.”

Immigrants’ rights activists called for an end to Title 42 almost as soon as Trump enacted it. They argued that forcing vulnerable migrants to live in Mexico and denying their legal right to request asylum puts them in danger.

Human Rights First tracked 13,480 “reports of murder, torture, kidnapping, rape and other violent attacks on migrants and asylum seekers blocked in or expelled to Mexico under Title 42 since Biden took office.”